Bulgarian qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova crowned a stunning week of top 10 scalps with a straight sets victory over fifth seed Angelique Kerber in the final of the Sydney International yesterday.
Pironkova, the world No. 107, defeated her third top-10 ranked opponent of the week with a 6-4, 6-4 win in 96 minutes.
Pironkova became the first women’s qualifier to win the Sydney International, one of the oldest tournaments in the world, for her maiden WTA Tour title.
She reached her debut WTA final with a win over second seed Petra Kvitova after beating Italian third seed Sara Errani in the quarter-finals.
“Where do I start? Mum, dad, I have a trophy,” the 27-year-old said in an emotional victory speech.
“When I know what I’ve been through, not only last season, but throughout my career, it hasn’t been easy for me,” Pironkova said at her post-match press conference. “This is something that I’ve been waiting for for so long and something that I’ve missed so much. Now that I finally have it, it’s all surreal. I still cannot believe it, honestly. My mum and dad are the people that have always been with me. My dad is also my coach, so obviously he’s very excited, too.”
The Bulgarian’s powerful backhand constantly had the German left-hander under pressure and she finished the stronger, despite playing her eighth match in eight days.
Pironkova broke Kerber’s service six times and lost her serve four times in a physical contest between two big hitters on the women’s circuit.
It was a draining week for the Bulgarian, who had her right thigh strapped and showing the effects of her heavy schedule as she heads to next week’s Australian Open.
“Since the beginning of the match I was feeling pain, not only in my right thigh, but also in the left one. So I was just praying, please, God, let me finish this match,” Pironkova said. “I guess the adrenaline helps you to pull through it, because right now when I walk I feel like my legs are going to fall apart.”
Pironkova faces Spaniard Silvia Soler-Espinosa in the first round of the Australian Open and is in the same half of the draw as top seed Serena Williams.
“I will need some time to recover considering that I have a few problems here and there,” she said. “I feel amazing, but going to the next tournament my body doesn’t feel the greatest, but I think I have the right mindset and the confidence needed.”
In the men’s semi-finals, world No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro powered his way into his first Sydney International final with a straight sets demolition of Dmitry Tursunov.
Del Potro had his big serve firing as he rolled to a 6-4, 6-2 win over the Russian fourth seed in 64 minutes.
Del Potro, the top seed, faces Australian defending champion Bernard Tomic, who wore down Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky in the other semi 6/7 (4/7), 7-5, 6-3 in 2 hours, 13 minutes.
The first Argentine to reach the Sydney final since David Nalbandian in 2009, Del Potro broke Tursunov’s serve three times and was formidable on his own service.
He thundered down nine aces, making it 38 aces in his three wins so far in Sydney.
It will be his 25th career final and he is looking to step up for his second major title since downing Roger Federer to win the 2009 US Open in New York.
“It is one of my biggest challenges for this season,” Del Potro said. “I was close to reaching last year’s Wimbledon final when I lost to Novak Djokovic in a great five-set semi-final, but I think I am getting closer to the top four guys. They are still playing so well and they are the favorites for every Grand Slam, but I have the experience in this kind of tournament and if I play well, if I’m fit and healthy, I will try to be dangerous for them.”